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For Nearly 60 Years, She’s Been a Steady Influence
Ann Kantianis

Ann Kantianis says much has changed in banking in 58 years, but not her company’s approach to doing business.

Ann Kantianis had just graduated from Chicopee High School in June of 1951 when she took a job at Hampden Bank as a secretary.

The stint was supposed to be brief — “I told them it was just for the summer and then I was going to move on to something else,” she said. But Kantianis never left.

She’s been reporting to work at 19 Harrison Ave. in downtown Springfield ever since, and has no real plans to retire, although she admits that there are some days — albeit few of them — when the thought does cross her mind.

“I love what I do,” said the 75-year-old. “That’s why I’m still here and why I want to keep working.”

Kantianis’s desk has been replaced and moved at least a few times over the past 58 years, but it is probably no more than 40 feet from where she was first stationed to serve as secretary to George Holderness, then assistant treasurer and corporator at Hampden. Only a few months later, the secretary to then-President Robert McGaw passed away, and Kantianis was moved into that position.

She’s been serving in that capacity ever since, although the title was amended in recent years to administrative assistant. That’s been among the more minor changes to come to banking, Hampden, downtown Springfield, and society in general since.

Indeed, Kantianis, who started at Hampden when Harry Truman was president and the Korean War was ongoing, has seen the emergence of television, the computer, the office tower in downtown Springfield (Tower Square, then Baystate West, was opened in 1967), the bank branch (most banks had one location until the early ’70s), and eventually the Internet.

She’s connected to it from the latest PC in a line of computers she’s used since the early ’90s — but wouldn’t say which sites she visits.

“I remember how we would figure out interest rates by hand in the old days” she said, referring to large calculators. “I had a typewriter forever, and now I can barely remember how to use one.”

Over 58 years, one collects a lot of memories, and Kantianis has more than her share.

She remembers, for example, some of the apparently many idiosyncracies of McGaw, who died in 1961 at age 85 — while still serving as Hampden’s president. McGaw, it seems, didn’t drive — or at least he didn’t drive to or from work, Kantianis recalled, noting that she thought he had a chauffeur, but saw several different individuals handle that assignment.

McGaw, or ‘Mr. McGaw,’ as Kantianis remembers he insisted on staff calling him, also sent his dry cleaning to New York City, she recalled, adding that she was too young and too timid to question what seemed like an unusual practice. If the shirts came back and didn’t meet her boss’ expectations, Kantianis had to hustle down to the post office and mail them back.

There are also memories of what Kantianis described as a different, better time (in her opinion) for downtown Springfield. “I remember there were so many great stores, restaurants, and movie theaters,” she said, lamenting the loss of such landmarks as Forbes & Wallace, Steiger’s, Johnson’s Bookstore, and many others.

And then, there are memories of the only robbery to take place at Hampden over the past 58-plus years. It happened in 1994, when Victor Quillard was president and just a few days from retirement after 21 years at the helm.

Kantianis said she and Quillard were sitting in the lobby talking (his office was being used for a meeting) when they both observed a young man handing a note to a teller, then the teller handing him money — and reacting accordingly.

“As I remember it, I think I did just about everything wrong in that situation, meaning what they say you’re not supposed to do,” said Kantianis, adding that she distinctly remembers saying to her boss (who was obviously less formal than McGaw), ‘Victor, go get him.’”

And Quillard did.

He followed the robber out the door, then onto a PVTA bus, where Quillard told the driver to summon a police officer, and then off the bus after the perpetrator started getting nervous and exited out the back door. Quillard continued following him into Harrison Place, where he was eventually apprehended.

“It was quite a scene,” said Kantianis, recalling that the rest of her 58 years at the bank have been comparatively quiet, but marked by that seemingly constant change.

One thing that hasn’t changed, thankfully, she said, is that banking, at least at Hampden’s level, is still a people business.

“I’ve seen several generations of the same family come in here,” she said of her other home since 1951. “A lot has changed, but we still do business the same way.”

—George O’Brien

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